** Mega Fun Superhero Special **
I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy superhero stories that examine what it means to be a superhero in some way. After binging on some freshly bought super stories this past week, I thought I’d share some shorter reviews of some that I’d really recommend, both old favourites and new. For the most part these still contain the action you’d expect, but also throw punches of theoretical and philosophical weight. Not so much in terms of different ways of being a superhero but more concerning the very concept of being one. In proper Pop Comic Review fashion these are all outside the Marvel/DC stable (obviously the list would be twice as long otherwise), so you have something different than everyone’s personal recommendation of their favourite Superman series.
Strong Female Protagonist Book 1
‘With superstrength and invulnerability, Alison Green used to be one of the most powerful superheroes around. Fighting crime with other teenagers under the alter ego Mega Girl was fun until an encounter with Menace, her mind reading arch enemy. He showed her evidence of a sinister conspiracy, and suddenly battling giant robots didn’t seem so important.
Now, Alison is going to college and trying to find ways to help the world while still getting to class on time. It’s impossible to escape the past, however, and everyone has their own idea of what it means to be a hero.’
Ongoing series. Written by Brennan Lee Mulligan, Art by Molly Ostertag, Publisher Top Shelf Productions, Released October 2014
Top Shelf Productions
Top Shelf Productions
This series is top of the list for a reason, as it’s hands down the first I’d recommend for serious examination of superhero themes. Following a character who’s recently left superheroing allows them reflection on previous actions while leaving room for it to drastically change future ones without the weight of much expectation, and include interactions with current/former heroes and villains that normally wouldn’t be possible. The intersection of personal and public life is obviously covered, but it’s the direct discussions of the futility of helping people or not, how to help people, the pressure of being looked to as an authority purely because of powers, morality, what makes a good person, and an overarching debate of temporary saving the world versus changing it, which make it the most direct story to face these kind of themes I’ve ever read. While the bluntness can feel a bit like being hit over the head, it’s not unwelcome, because Mulligan isn’t trying to preach a point here; it’s the discussion of these issues that matters, seen through the lens of the wide array of people a world with the presence of super abilities implies.
The art is plain linework with colour for the covers, and starts out a little shaky but becomes more confident by the end of the volume. After volume 1 the comic becomes full colour as far as I remember, and a bonus short focused on a background character in a different part of the world at the end is in colour. Ostertag tackles regular city and crowd scenes with aplomb, and the fight scenes are believable and well-structured. As you can guess, all that thematic stuff can’t be discussed with wooden expressions, and emotions are expressed well.
Book 2 should be available soon too I believe, but the whole thing so far – it’s still ongoing – is available to read at www.strongfemaleprotagonist.com
The Pride vol. 1: I Need A Hero
‘FabMan is sick of being seen as a joke. Tired of the LGBTQ community being seen as inferior to straight heroes, he thinks its about damn time he did something about it. Bringing together some of the world’s greatest LGBTQ superheroes, The Pride is born to protect the world and fight prejudice, misrepresentation, and injustice – not to mention a pesky supervillain or two! Join The Pride as they work to change their world and show just what they can do!’
Two miniseries collected in this volume: The Pride (six issues), and The Pride Adventures (three issues). Written by Joe Glass, with Mike Garley and PJ Montgomery, Art by various, Publisher Queer Comix, Released October 2016.
As you can guess, a story specifically based around LGBT superheroes takes the opportunity to utilise both real world and fictional world troubles. It approaches the issue of trying to be a superhero against the antagonism of other heroes, as well as both paralleling and combining religious pushback against queer people and super-powered people in a bit of a heavy-handed supervillian. The overarching plot of The Pride miniseries is good, and also touches on dealing with losing people in the superhero game. The Pride Adventures consists of several short standalone stories fleshing out the world and characters.
The series involves several different artists, and while this is great for showcasing various artists and having a favourite, it also disrupts the flow and makes you get used to a different style every ~25 pages. All the artists are professional though, and there’s no problem of issue art letting down the story in quality. Half of The Pride was done by Gavin Mitchell (inks) and Kris Carter (colours), but The Pride Adventures specifically featured different artists as part of its mix-up style of short story adventures (all written by Joe Glass still), something that would have been appreciated more if the original miniseries had had a single continuous artist.
This collected edition also includes The Pride Origins short stories (also by various artists), and a stack of bonus material in the form of more in-world short stories, cover and concept artwork, and a ‘behind the scenes’ feature, as extras.
‘What happens when supervillains become mere criminals? Nancy Grace and Simon Van Zandt got out of the cape-game a few years ago. They were tired of the mad plans and getting their heads kicked in by a bunch of do-gooders. But when their old boss, the Duchess comes back and tells them they can still do jobs, they just can’t wear the costumes, the money starts rolling in and times are good. The only problem? Nancy and Simon miss the masks more than they ever thought…’
Miniseries, 4 issues. Written by Christian Read, Art by Emily Smith, Publisher Gestalt Comics, Released October 2013
This isn’t about the motivation of superheroes, it’s about supervillains. Unmasked approaches it as a group of former supervillains trying to turn plain criminal in an attempt to avoid the capes, which allows a more direct examination of the difference between the two and a ‘pining for the glory days’ theme. It’s also told as a series of flashbacks, so that rather than drowning us in internal monologue there’s a more natural narration to it, avoiding a lot of angst.
The art style is usual, good quality fare, allowing it to fit seamlessly in with the superhero comics (a cunning disguise). I would have expected a lot more flat blacks in a dark story like this, especially when a lot happens at night/under cover of darkness sort of thing, but it’s not overused which definitely stops it from becoming too grim and gritty. When blood, sex, alcohol, and supervillain tech flow through the story you have to carefully balance your visuals to give it the tone you’re after if you’re not aiming for a general ‘descent into hell’ look to it, and Unmasked does well in keeping it intense but not too grim.
‘When the caped heroes of the world’s safest city inexplicably all turn into homicidal maniacs, no one is safe.
The only rational thing to do is get the hell out of town. If only it were that easy…..’
Graphic novel. Written by Gail Simone, Art by Jim Calafiore, Publisher Painfully Normal Productions, Released September 2014
Painfully Normal Productions
Painfully Normal Productions
I’d be surprised if you haven’t heard of this, it’s pretty well known as far as I’m aware. I wasn’t sure whether to include it or not; it’s not really about superheroes as such, since it’s about people surviving when all the superpowered ones turned evil, but it does gently examine feelings around superheroes. That concept of them creating a feeling of safety, and the unspeakable things superpowers can make them physically capable of, is a running theme behind examining what non-powered people are capable of on the good and evil ends of the equation in that situation too, behind the main theme of choosing to be a hero with what you’ve got.
In full hero comics colour the visuals are good quality; the freshly destroyed and looming city setting is almost a character on its own, creating a new sort of wilderness to survive in while being that constant reminder of what used to be. And it takes a lot of work on a technical level so I’m impressed by it. The characters are all individual and get you thinking about assumptions; there’s an extra at the end that shows how a lot of the character designs were created, which really highlights how much thought is put into these things, and what they’re intended to express and symbolise.
A free separate issue titled Leaving Megalopolis: Finding Megalopolis was made afterwards as a promotional, focusing on one of the superheroes and what they were like before and after ‘turning’, which is some cool extra worldbuilding and examination of motivation.
And this week’s new release . . .
‘For Chad, Shane, and Cameron, insurance agents who follow superheroes around Los Angeles, there is no such thing as a normal day. When a group of super villains decide to reveal themselves, it throws the entire city into chaos.’
Ongoing series, just started. Written by Tim Schultz, Art by Jerry Gaylord (pencils and inks), Penelope Gaylord (inks), and Bryan Turner (colours), Publisher Tim Schultz, Released 23 August 2017
In the background behind the superpowered fights, are the insurance claims adjusters assessing the damage. The background industries and businesses that must exist in a superpowers world isn’t a new idea (you may remember a similar idea being the basis of the short-lived recent DC show Powerless), but one that has a lot of room for different stories. This issue follows one claims adjuster in particular, and his dealings with damage victims and a young verging-on-irresponsible superhero. It already touches on issues you might not have thought of – for example, how a city needing to constantly have new buildings replacing old ones deals with that loss of its physical history, something I had never considered before and which I hope is a reflection of some sneaky thoughtfulness behind the ‘day in the life of an average guy struggling along in unusual circumstances which are normal for him’ plot rather than a one-off. The establishing of a young hero is also an opportunity for character development of various characters, hinting at some solid over-arching plots down the line if Schultz knows his stuff. Since his history is in film editing I can assume he knows how to put a story together. Apparently the idea was in the works for a few years before being put to paper, but I don’t know of experience with long-form stuff like an ongoing comic series so we’ll have to see.
The lines are loose but confident, creating a casual style suited to the light-hearted plot. Bright colours are essential for any superhero story trying for a fun feeling, and this one delivers there too. I don’t know how dark future storylines might end up being, but for the moment the focus is on property destruction rather than casualties, something which can take a turn for the gritty side fast if not handled well. The property destruction takes some interesting forms though, since powers are thrown into the mix – when there’s lightning strikes, laser guns, and teleporting to play with there’s some good settings to use, and I hope the ideas keep coming on different ways to mess with buildings.
All in all, one to keep an eye on for me, and see if it continues to tickle my fancy.
Thanks to Comixology.com for providing ‘Claims #1’ for review